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Nyar, Annsilla (2007) Education department fails teachers. Eye on Civil Society : -.

One of the grimmest legacies of this year’s public servants strike is the thorny issue of salary deductions. The issue of salary deductions for teachers who participated in the month-long public servants strike of June 2007, is now being thrust into the spotlight as matric examinations near and parents and school-goers fear imminent strike action by irate teachers.

The process of salary deductions was to be expected as the Department of Education had been clear from the outset of the strike that the ‘no work, no pay’ rule would be strictly applied. The foregoing of salaries was a hard choice which public servants had to face, and make a principled stand for. Teachers who were prepared to take a firm stand for the 12% salary increase demand have had to brace themselves for the financial consequences of strike action.

Now a haphazard process of salary deductions implemented by the Department of Education has left many teachers out of pocket, not to mention panicked, uncertain and disgruntled. With deductions taking place in a highly questionable manner, teachers have the threat of returned debit orders, botched bond repayments and blacklisting, hanging over their heads. The concluding talks between the unions and government agreed that teachers would lose a maximum of 4 days pay only. Yet many teachers have had as much as 7 days deducted from their salaries. Some teachers who were at school during the period of strike action have had deductions made from their salaries, while others have not received salaries at all. The education department has also applied the salary deduction rule blindly, without considering any mitigating circumstances around teacher absences during the strike. This ranges from the obvious such as intimidation, to the banal such as leave taken by some teachers during the period of strike action.

Certain provincial departments have issued statements to the effect that a process of investigation would take place and that upon the outcome of such an investigation, unfair deductions would be refunded. But in Gauteng for example, despite unions having provided the Department of Education with school attendance registers and received acknowledgement of the receipt of said registers, salary deductions have continued nonetheless and few refunds have been forthcoming.

How can the no work, no pay rule be legitimately enforced when there it is clear that no adequate monitoring and information process exists, regarding the participation of teachers in the strike? Provincial education departments are hard pressed to swiftly implement the process of salary deductions, with National Treasury urging its completion. It has been estimated that the education department will save up to R20 million in salary deductions. National Treasury is charged with the responsibility of making recommendations for the use of such savings to the education department.

Close to home, KwaZulu Natal has seen its fair share of salary deduction grievances. According to the media statement put out by the KwaZulu Natal MEC Ina Cronje, “Instructions have been given that no deductions related to absences during the period of the strike are to be made from salaries that are payable in September 2007. Meanwhile the process of the resolution of disputes regarding salary deductions for the period of the strike, will be expedited. The Department expects the process to be completed well before the end of October 2007. Disputes about the number of days an individual did not render services, will be addressed by the Department of Education during the process that the Department has put in place. As soon as decisions in individual cases are finalized, any amounts that the Department should not have deducted, will be refunded to the educator at the first reasonable opportunity. Where it is found that more money should be deducted, such deductions will be made in the month following the finalization of the dispute process. This means that once the process of dealing with the disputes has been finalized, further deductions will be made if necessary.”

Thus speaks the voice of officialdom at its most clinical and detached, serving to mask and obscure the human cost of the debacles of the Department of Education. Teachers whom the Department has failed, will undoubtedly experience a great deal of hardship and suffering as a result of the process of salary deductions. Teachers with families will feel the brunt through the anxiety of having to make do without regular income and then having to wait for refunds upon the behest of the Department of Education. For those teachers without a financial safety net to cushion them against unexpected shocks, there may be such consequences as homes and cars being repossessed/lost, or problems with payments for essentials such as food or school fees.

The education department has done teachers a serious injustice. It is a spectacular failure on the part of government, who hypocritically laud their own economic achievements but resist paying decent salaries to public servants. The strike objective of the 12% salary went unattained and the final 7,5% increase achieved by the strike, is compromised by the increase in inflation to 6, 5% and interest rates to 13%. Food and fuel prices continue to rise sharply. 7,5% will not translate meaningfully into a concerted material improvement in the lives of teachers and ensures that many teachers will be driven out of the profession, alienated not only by poor learning and teaching conditions, but by the precariousness of their profession.

Ultimately short term salary negotiations will not save the education system from the crisis it faces. It is only a concerted effort at substantive long term transformation and change in the education system which can deliver the quality education which South Africa needs. But the starting point of this must surely be a healthy regard and respect for the teachers who are charged with the responsibility of delivering quality progressive education. This must involve offering teachers sound renumeration. After all, it is teachers, (not rugby sporting heroes), who carry and exemplify the hopes of the nation.

Annsilla Nyar is a researcher at the Center for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

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